PTJ 83 News: Deals and Wheels

Cable companies are hooking up — with each other. Late last week, Comcast announced it had reached an agreement to take over Time Warner Cable for $45 billion dollars. Criticism over the deal flared up quickly, including a statement from former FCC commissioner Michael Copps, who said the merger would let the two companies “run roughshod over consumers in the end.” Several consumers took to the Internet themselves, lamenting a possible future of even more high prices and bad service. (Last year’s American Consumer Satisfaction Index survey ranked Internet providers and cable companies even lower than the airlines, another industry that’s seen a lot of mergers and a dwindling number of choices over the recent years.) The deal, which has not gotten the official government seal of approval yet, includes no breakup fee if it falls through. The Ars Technica site has an analysis of the proposed deal and how it might play out if the FCC steps in. In addition to consumer fears, the Comcast-Time Warner deal could derail a deal between Time Warner Cable and Netflix.

Meanwhile, much smaller cable company RCN is teaming up with TiVo and Opera Software are all joining forces together to bring the Opera TV Store to certain TiVo’s recorders. (Never heard of RCN? It’s a smaller outfit with service mainly along the major East Coast cities and Chicago.)

On the phone front, Federal lawmakers have followed the California Senate in proposing a new law that would require a kill switch on smartphones. Dubbed the Smartphone Theft Protection Act, the bill aims to cut down on theft and save consumers $30 billion a year in lost hardware and related costs. The wireless phone industry is not too keen on being told how to build phone hardware, however. Whatever happens, at least there are basic remote recovery tools in many phone operating systems now, like Android Device Manager, Find My iPhone or Windows Phone remote wipe.

Details about the Samsung Galaxy S5 phone are starting to percolate. Bloomberg News reports that the S5 will have a 5.2-inch display screen that’s sharper than the screen on the current S4 model, and have an improved camera and better battery life. Other sites claim the new model will have a fingerprint sensor and a spiffy new physical design.

The Kickstarter crowdfunding site got hacked this past weekend. If you’re a member of the site, change your password if you haven’t already. In a post on the Kickstarter company blog, CEO Yancey Strickler said no customer credit-card information had been accessed.

girlsclubSony’s PlayStation continues to outsell its main rival the Microsoft Xbox One. Sony announced it’s sold 5.3 million PS4 consoles since the hardware debuted last November, comparde to Microsoft’s sales of 3.9 million Xbox One units since its own November debut. Nintendo’s Wii U console has sold about 6 million units since it arrived in November 2012. Nintendo may be zeroing in on a certain segment of its user base, however. Over in the United Kingdom, the company has launched a new YouTube channel aimed at female gamers. It’s called Nintendo Girls Club and it features videos from British actors and bloggers on the latest gameplay and trailers.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day last week, Facebook added more than 40 new gender terms for users to use with their profiles on the site, expanding from the binary male/female to include transgender, intersex and a whole lot more. While many called the move progressive move into the modern world of gender identity, and editorial in the Guardian suggested that Facebook should get really radical and remove all gender options instead.

Also in the V-Day vibe, the Facebook Data Science group did a series of posts last week, sharing some of its research. One post was called “The Formation of Love,” and explained how Facebook can tell when you’re about to start a new relationship.

Ken Burns, a documentary filmmaker so iconic that he got a special effect named after him in Apple’s iPhoto software, now has an iPad app of his own. It, too, is called Ken Burns. Software Ken Burns is free to try and $10 to buy.

jetstreamMany New Yorkers have not been shy in complaining about the winter weather this year, but is there science behind it? (The weather, not New Yorkers complaining.) A study recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago, research was presented that suggested warmer temperatures in the Arctic have caused the jet stream to shift father south and take a longer path across the globe — and making for more sustained weather systems.

And finally, NASA says it’s solved the mystery of the jelly-shaped donut rock on Mars that seemed to suddenly appear in front of its Opportunity rover last month. The rock, as Mars-watchers know, looked like it showed up out of the blue in pictures the rover sent back to earth within the span of 12 Martian days. This set off all sorts of speculation about just how the rock got there, but NASA now says it was a broken-off piece of another rock that the rover ran over while it was exploring the area. Let’s hope Opportunity has its insurance card in the glove compartment in case the Martians file a claim.

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